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Waste not

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Waste management practices are changing in the building industry. Here’s what you should know and tips on how to best adapt to new restrictions.

Mike Hermon

Executive Director - Planning & Development at Housing

Over the past two decades there has been a significant increase in community awareness on a range of environmental issues and the responsibility we all have to reduce, reuse and recycle. For many today it has become second nature, in our homes we all do our bit, but on the building site the situation is very different. 

Onsite waste management is an important issue for the residential building industry. In recent years, we have witnessed residential development in several larger metropolitan centres move toward narrower lot frontages, and higher density living take hold in the hearts of our cities. This change in residential layout and design has introduced new challenges for builders and trades to manage onsite waste, particularly how to sort and store waste during construction.

What’s required?

Typically, as part of obtaining development approval for larger scale developments, a waste management plan must be submitted prior to commencement of works. Though, more recently, conditions for similar waste management plans have been applied to smaller scale subdivisions or developments, which requires an organised approach to all onsite waste management practices. In some states, this applies to all projects and the plan must be provided before approval is given. 

While managing onsite waste ensures a positive environmental outcome, it can rapidly become problematic for builders as they contend with challenging sites, waste levies, council fees, mixed materials and excess supply. 
Managing onsite waste can rapidly become problematic for builders as they contend with challenging sites, waste levies, council fees, mixed materials and excess supply.
Onsite waste management is an important issue for the residential building industry.

The new norm

An increasing number of local government authorities are imposing tighter restrictions with regards to how waste must be stored and sorted onsite. It is well known that landfill space is reaching capacity in several metropolitan areas and that waste levies are now embedded in the costs of doing business. So, with waste management becoming an unavoidable part of building and construction, the challenge industry faces is to achieve a sensible balance between the need to construct and renovate homes at an affordable cost and in an efficient manner – while minimising the impact on the environment. 

The good news is there are simple changes you can make to your onsite waste management practices that will reduce fees and potentially save your business money. Below are some useful tips to help you adhere to these new changes. 

Making waste manageable

Sort onsite: This is achieved by a dedicated waste section with specific bins, skips or bags for different types of discarded building materials. A team that knows how to manage waste effectively can avoid the costs of hiring a specialised team to do this task for them or expensive tip fees if they just simply put every leftover scrap into a skip. 

Mixed building waste usually incurs the most expensive waste disposal fee, but clean fill concrete and brick rubble waste, or timber, will be much cheaper. Modern waste transfer stations have dedicated drop off areas for separated waste and generally these are free – or for items, such as scrap metal, you may be paid to drop it off.

Train and explain: A project may start with the best of intentions, with areas created for separating waste and signs put up to inform trades onsite. But the challenge of so many different trades, with so many different materials and so little space on a building site, often brings people back to the simple option of throwing all discarded material in the bin. The key to cost-effective waste management is to have a plan at the start and stick to it. Educate everyone coming to site and take steps to make ‘doing the right thing’ as simple as possible. 

The key to education is understanding why something should be done. When it comes to waste management, cost is king. Getting waste management right will save money for everyone. Getting it wrong leads to the opposite, with higher disposal costs and potential fines for poor site management. 

Deconstruct instead of demolish: Demolition is a messy, polluting procedure that has far less long-term gain than precise deconstruction. Deconstruction allows for a safe environment and high potential to reuse or sell recycled materials in the process.

Have a comprehensive plan: As no single waste management approach guarantees significant waste reduction and cost savings, it is important that waste management is considered as an integral component when planning a residential development project. This should include giving consideration to the packaging of materials delivered to site, what you’ll do with material offcuts, from timber to plasterboard, and site clean-up at the end of the project. All these matters will have subtly different waste management requirements and their disposal may need to be planned at different times to ensure your site remains clean and safe for the duration of the project. 
Recycled bricks add character to a build. (Pictured: Langford Projects) Photo: Adam Gibson
Clean fill concrete and brick rubble waste, or timber, will have a much cheaper waste disposal fee.

A circular economy

Contemporary thinking with regard to how the federal and state governments plan to build our national capabilities to reduce, reuse and recycle the goods and products we no longer need into new products, is commonly referred to as developing a ‘circular economy’. Such contemporary thinking is already practiced in other parts of the world such as Denmark, Scotland and Japan. 

A major driver of the circular economy in Australia is the National Waste Policy, first published in 2009 and updated in 2018. The policy identifies five overarching principles underpinning waste management in a circular economy, which include:

  • avoid waste
  • improve resource recovery
  • increase use of recycled materials, and build demand and markets for recycled products
  • better manage material flows to benefit human health, the environment and the economy
  • improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions.

In addition to the 2018 National Waste Policy, the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019 was developed. This action plan aims to guide continuing collaboration between all levels of governments, business and industry and encourages everyone to implement tailored solutions in response to local and regional circumstances.

The National Waste Policy 2018 and the associated action plan are high level strategic documents covering a range of industries. To assist the implementation of its principles and aims, Australian Environment Ministers meet twice a year to discuss waste management, among other environmental matters. These meetings often result in waste and recycling targets being set by the states and territories.  

Waste avoidance and recycling is likely to become a bigger issue over the next decade, and builders, trades and suppliers will need to re-educate and re-engineer their processes to achieve a sensible outcome. While life-cycle analysis of products is still in its infancy it is essential that appropriate support is provided to the residential building industry to lead the way in new innovations and technologies that address the pressure for product recycling and reuse.